Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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John Altman Big Band : Pizza Express Dean St London 16/04/2023

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A packed Sunday lunchtime session got under way at this popular Dean St jazz venue and eatery. The Inimitable and affable band leader, composer and arranger extraordinaire, John Altman, was in the house with his crack ace big band and you could feel the anticipated excitement building up amongst the throng of diners tucking into their Sunday lunch . It’s what Georgie Fame refers to as a ‘knife and fork gig ‘ but the newly refurbished Pizza Express is a swankier affair and a great setting for this voluminous 18 piece band full of seasoned players.

John,out front, with his trademark sopranino saxophone directed the band and regaled stories that were fascinating and went hand in hand with his big band arrangements that were jaunty and upbeat just like the man himself. ‘The Opener’ highlighted his band members a core of which have been with him for 38 years. Top players such as Mitch Dalton on guitar, trumpeter, Steve Waterman and Jamie Talbot on Baritone to name but a few.

It was a greatly varied set too, evoking 50’s Cuba with ‘Mambo Inn’ adorned with punchy trumpets that saw soloist Tony Dixon shine as well as Altman himself stealing an improv as well. Great to hear the James Bond Theme too that’s a rarity ! Monty Norman also used to sing in John’s quartet and had appeared with him at the club back in the 70’s.

First guest vocalist,Shane Hampshier crooned effectively on John’s arrangement of ‘Moondance’ and acquitted himself admirably with George Michael’s ‘Kissing A Fool’. However the guest star of the show was Rebecca Poole aka Purdie, who tore up Bjork’s classic big band hit the fabulous ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’ a tune originally recorded in 10 mins as the elf like, Icelandic Diva turned up late for the session with just 10 mins to go !

His association with Monty Python got an airing too, with the ever playful ‘Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life’ and it was a nice touch that comedy actor, Sanjeev Bhaskar got up and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ for Michael Palin’s 80th.

Ubuntu artists were ever present too. Tenor sax player, Brandon Allen extolled an imperious offering on the 1936 standard ‘Donkey Serenade’. Pianist Andrew McCormack shone on Altman’s original offering ‘West Coast Chatter’ and trumpeter Quentin Collins was in the mix too. Talking of trumpeters, Enrico Tomasso, nearly stole the show with his riveting performance of the jazz standard evergreen ‘I Can’t Get Started’ not only did he play his socks off but he sang it superbly. This was a special gig, it’s always a thrill to hear big band arrangements, special props too, must go to anchorman Pete Cater on the drums who has the chops ,sensitivity and wallop when required. As one musician once said, the drummer is like the bus driver and you don’t go anywhere without his say so ! Sunday big band sessions are back with a bang!
Words Emrys Baird

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